Friday, December 31, 2010

Deuterocohnia brevifolia

This plant may be cushion-shaped, but it is not soft. It looks more like a spiny boulder to me. It is also called "rosette forming" and "ground covering" but those descriptions do not do it justice. It is is in the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae) and makes me think of a thousand tiny pineapple tops all cramped together in a mound. It likes bright sun and well-drained soil. Does well in pots. Drought tolerant, but it does appreciate some water and mist. Deer resistant! What deer would want all those spines in its mouth? An easy to grow and unusual plant. Not right for every garden, but a great conversation piece.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Duckweed Family

The pond in the herb garden at the UC Botanical Garden is now covered with a beautiful layer of duckweed. It almost looks like a lawn. And, according to some stories I have heard, it looks so much like a lawn to some kids that they try to walk on it. AND FALL IN! So, kids, stay out of the water. That green stuff that looks like a putting green is actually thousands of tiny plants floating on the surface of the pond: duckweed.

It is called duckweed because ducks, and other waterfowl, eat it. It is very high in protein. Higher than soybeans. So it is a great food source for birds, and some humans use it, too. It has been used for many generations in Thailand, Burma and Laos. Some people call it watermeal; I guess because you can eat it like cornmeal, and the individual plants are about the same size as a grain of cornmeal. Pretty small! Wolffia angusta and Wolffia globosa, two species in this family, are the smallest plants in the world and have the smallest flowers in the world.

Watermeal grows so quickly it can be harvested every few days, so it can be a good food source. But this also means that it can clog slow-moving waterways. Many online sites address this plant as a pest and offer control methods. Why not just harvest it and eat it? In fact, it is used to clean up pollutants in water treatment plants and then fed to fish and chickens. That seems good, but perhaps some creative people will come up with some more ideas about how to use this plant.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Aristolochia californica

The Aristolochia californica is now in bloom at the UC Botanical Garden. They look stunning here, but in real life, they are rather subtle, and you will miss the flowers if you are not looking for them. The leafless plants with the pipe-like flowers are on the left of the main path, between the serpentine bed and the oak knoll. They are pollinated by fungus gnats, which apparently are not attracted to bright colors or fragrance, because this blossom has none of that. They are rather maroon. The tiny fungus gnats fly in, and fly to the light colored stem-end of the flower to try to get out. That is where the anthers are, so they get covered in pollen. Then, evenually, they find their way out. Some flowers I have seen have holes in them, so I wonder if they eat their way out....? Anyway, Pipevine is pollinated by by fungus gnats, and the caterpillars of Pipevine Swallowtails eat the foliage. Two very different insects have very close relationships with this special plant.

The Bot Garden is closed today and tomorrow, so don't try to see this plant until after Xmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The California native Clematis have lovely white starry flowers in the spring and feathery seedheads in the winter. The seedheads are so unusual and showy, I almost like them better than the flowers. I am guessing this is C. ligusticifolia, but I am really not sure. It is climbing up through the trees at the UC Botanical Garden. Like many vines, it likes its roots in the shade and its leaves in the sun, and climbing up a tree creates the perfect conditions. I think the term "liana" is more commonly used for woody vines in tropical rain forests, but this seems like a liana, too, using trees for support in the same way and creating tree-top highways for animals in the same way. However, a plant is classified as a liana based on its stiffness, and not all vines meet the qualifications.

This vine is easy to grow and likes regular garden conditions.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Polypodium calirhiza--Polypody Fern

This fern looks so lush and lovely now at the UC Botanical Garden. It is at its best in the rainy season, and dies back in the summer. I love the bright yellow spores under the leaves (I guess they are actually sporangium, but who says that?). It grows in Oregan, California, and Mexico, sometimes in the ground and sometimes in trees. The name comes from P. californicum and P glycyrrhiza because it is a hybrid of the two and recognized as a separate species in 1991. It likes growing in the shade, under oaks and other trees.
The Polypody ferns look so lush and lovely now, after all the rain.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Abies concolor--White Fir

This cute little tree, decorated for the holidays, is only about a foot tall. It can reach over 100 feet, but it usually "only" grows 50-75 feet. This is White Fir, which is native to California, areas north into Canada and east into Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. It turns into a lovely, dense, formal cone-shaped tree which is commonly used in urban landscapes. It doesn't grow fast, so you don't have to worry about it taking over your space, even though it gets big. Just plant it and let the next generation worry about it! I don't know why it is called White Fir, because is looks kind of bluish. . Maybe because the needles are whitish underneath. Or maybe the wood is white.

It is used for holiday trees, wreaths, and garlands because it holds it needles well and smells great. The wood is soft and knotty, so it is not favored for building. However, as other species become less available, A. concolor has been successfully used for framing houses and making plywood.

This tree has considerable wildlife value. When the trees get old and hollow, many mammals use them to bed down. Weasels, porcupines, black bears, etc. Birds use the snags are for roosting and nesting and the seeds are part of their diet. Even though the needles may seem too strong for browsing, deer and other animals eat it, especially the new growth.

These cute trees, decorated with buttons and beads, are for sale and available now on the plant deck at the UC Botanical Garden.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Heuchera pilosissima-Seaside Coral Bells

This handsome plant for shade or part shade is native to California coastal bluffs. This easy, vigorous plant has clumps of low growing leaves. Spikes of pinkish white flowers tower above in March, April and May. Looks great all year long. For sale now on the plant deck at the UC Botanical Garden.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Garrya elliptica cv evie

This is the same plant that I photographed last June. Back then, the tassels were long and graceful and danced in the breeze. Now they are new and fresh and beautiful in an entirely different way. Very showy now, in December, and will continue to change and evolve through spring and summer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Berkeley Skies Ceanothus

When you don't look too closely, the flowers on this Ceanothus look sky blue, but close up, they are actually lavender. This variety was discovered grown at the UC Botanical Garden, where this pic was taken. This one is tall, maybe 15', and soon to come out to make room for other plants. Maybe they should sell it?

Anyway, this is one of many plants blooming now. Ceanothus is a great addition to a bay area garden. Blue or white flowers. Sometimes deep blue. Drought tolerant. I have heard that they live longer is you don't water them. The ones with the small spiny leaves, like Blue Jeans, are deer resistant. They feel very uncomfortable in the mouth.

The common name is California Lilac, but I don't like that name, because it is so different than lilac. I just call them Ceanothus. It is not that hard! Really!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rhamnus californica--Leatherleaf Coffeeberry

This variety of Coffeeberry has dark leaves that are different than the species: thicker, with the edges rolled under. This makes it look a bit like a rhododendron. It is also smaller than the species, but still, it can quickly become 8' tall and almost as wide. It is a Roger Raiche selection from from San Mateo County. It can tolerate heavy soils, which is unusual for California natives, but prefers sandy soil. Grows in sun or part shade and is drought tolerant. In this picture, the small inconspicuous can be seen--blooming in December! The berries are more showy, starting out green, turning red, and ending up black. I guess they are dark like coffee "beans," but they are not edible. This plant is blooming now and available for sale on the Plant Deck at the UC Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dichroa febrifuga--Blue Sapphire

The deep blue flowers of this shrub at the UC Botanical Garden practically glow in the dark. But the color is dependent on soil ph, so it isn't necessarily so intense. According to the description, it is supposed to have metallic blue berries. I will have to come back and see those. The plant has some medicinal properties. It has been used to reduce fever. For centuries it has been used against malaria. It is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in tradition chinese medicine. The chinese name for this plant is Chang Shan, and it is available as a pill to treat scleroderma. This is because it acts as an anti-inflammatory. It is also toxic, and can cause nausea and vomiting.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Farfugium japonicum--Leopard Plant

Apparently, the cultivars, with variegated leaves, are pretty common, but gardeners do not usually grow the plain species of the Leopard Plant like this one at the UC Botanical Garden. It has shiny, round green leaves and yellow daisy flowers. It is native to Japan, Korea and Taiwan where it grows on rocky coastal cliffs. It likes moist shady areas. Bright yellow flowers in fall and early winter. What a nice time of year for flowers!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rhododendron scabrifolium v. spiciferum

I think of these smaller bushes with smaller flowers as Azaleas, but I guess this is a Rhododendron. So many of these Rhododendrons are now in bloom at the UC Botanical Garden! It is not even winter yet! I guess when the rains start falling, some plants think it is time to get serious about reproduction. I could find nothing about this plant besides its description, so I will just say, it is beautiful to see all the flowres among the beautiful fall leaves.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Weird flowers in the spring, stunning seed heads in the fall, arisaemas are not the typical pretty flower. In the same family as Calla Lilies, the flower has a similar structure, with a spadix in the center and a spath surrounding it. Here the spadix has matured into a seedhead with bright red fruits, and the spadix has dried up around it. This is one of many Arisaema species at the UC Botanical Garden.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Malus hupehensis--Tea Crabapple

Beautiful clusters of flowers in spring, lovely fall foliage, and shiny red fruit in winter. What is not to like? Well, the Tea Crabapple can get many diseases: apple scab, powdery mildew, fire blight, rust and leaf spot. Still disease resistant varieties are available. the Tea Crabapple grows about 20-25 feet tall, perfect for home gardens. Birds love the fruit. It is called a Tea Crabapple because the leaves are sometimes used to make tea. The fruit can be eaten, but it is sour. Sometimes real apples are grafted onto the rootstock. Come take a look at it at the UC Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Acer palmatum--Japanese maple

People have said that the cold snap early this fall has led to especially nice fall colors. I agree! Trees all over Berkeley are especially beautiful this year, and the ones at the UC Botantical Garden are amazing. This Japanese Maple is one example. Japanese horticulturalists have been developing cultivars for centuries, and now hundreds are available. Wow!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dahlia imperialis?

Well, I guess nobody knows exactly what Dahlia this is, now blooming at the UC Botanical Garden, but D imperialis is close. I have often heard people call it Thanksgiving Dahlia or Christmas Dahlia because it blooms this time of year. The flowers may be pink or white, single or double, but his plant is TALL. Eight to Twenty Feet Tall! It grows easily in this area; all it takes is putting a section of the stem (which looks like bamboo) in the soil. It takes at least a year to get to blooming size, but then they take care of themselves. Some support can be nice, and they don't like a hot, dry location, so next to a fence might be good. Very easy and has beautiful flowers at a time of year when not much is blooming. A great addition to a bay area garden.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sassafras Tzumu

Three types of leaves: football, ghost and mitten. Can you find them all in the pics? And beautiful fall color. Just proves that there is always something beautiful at the UC Botanical Garden. I've read that there are only two main species in this genus, S. Tzumu from China, and S. albidum from eastern North America. Main species? Maybe there are subspecies? There is also S. randalense. S. randalense and S. Tzumu are Asian and moneocious. S albidum is dioecious. They are all butterfly host plants. The American one hosts the spicebush butterfly and the Taiwanese one hosts the broadtailed swallowtail.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tea is Blooming

Tea is a camellia with small white flowers. Whole books have been written about camellia sinensis, but I will limit myself to a couple of paragraphs here. One of the most interesting stories is the one that links the industrial revolution to tea. alan Macfarlane, an anthropologist at Cambridge University postulates that the IR would never have been possible without tea. For thousands of years, people who gathered in dense communities had problems with keeping the water clean enough to drink and suffered from dysentery and other intestinal problems. To avoid the sickness, they often drank a sort of "near beer," water with a small amount of alcohol in it to make safer. The problem was, drinking alcohol at breakfast, lunch and dinner makes people a bit dumb. But with the advent of tea, people could have safe water without the alcohol. The ritual of boiling the water kills germs, but the tea is also a sort of antibiotic. Thus, people could move to cities, remain healthy, and use the full power of their brains. In addition, workers who drank tea in the afternoon could work longer because the caffeine is a stimulant. Many factors played a part in the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Perhaps tea was one factor.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Euonymus Grandiflorus

This plant is fruiting now, and the seeds are remarkable. Black seeds with a red fleshy attachment. Or red fleshy seeds with a shiny black attachement? I don't know, but they are beautiful when you take a moment to get a close look.

Euonymus generally grows to be a bush or tree. It is called Spindle or Spindle tree because the wood has been used to make spindles to spin wool.

Some of the plants in this genus have lovely fall foliage. I'll have to make an observation at a later date to see if this one is deciduous.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Unknown Butterfly

This is my favorite photo of the Texas trip. Big camouflaged butterfly! Leaves bright green in the sun! Such a lovely contrast. I have no ID for the insect or the plant, but that doesn't matter. Nature is just beautiful!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Road Runner

This road runner was pretty tame and didn't mind people taking pictures. We watched it pull a couple of caterpillars out of the brushy area near the vistiors' center at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands in Texas. According to the range map it occurs in California, but I have never seen one here. In addition to eating caterpillars, it eats scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, rodents and small birds. To warm up in the morning, it turns its back to the sun much like butterflies do. It has salt glands near its eyes to excrete excess salt. Birds that drink sea water commonly have these glands. The roadrunner has them because it takes a lot less water to remove salt with the salt glands than with the kidneys, and water is sometimes hard to find in the desert.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mexican Silverspot

This butterfly lays eggs on passion vine like the gulf fritillary, but it is called a silverspot, not a fritillary. The leading edge of this butterfly is much darker than the trailing edge. It lives in very southern areas of the US, then south all the way to Brazil. I was so lucky to see so many new butterflies in Texas!